IMPACT OF THE MEDIA ON ADOLESCENT SEXUAL ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIORS

Autor: ---- Fuente: The Medical Institute

Authors

S. Liliana Escobar-Chaves, DrPH
Susan Tortolero, PhD
Christine Markham, PhD
Barbara Low, DrPH

Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research
University of Texas Health Science Center Houston

Submitted to:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Grant # H75/CCH623007-01-1


Funding for this study was included as a congressional project in the fiscal year 2003 appropriation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The relevant portion of House Report 108-10 reads as follows: “The conferees include the following amounts for the following projects and activities in fiscal year 2003: Medical Institute for Sexual Health; $250,000.”





Executive Summary



Adolescents in the United States are engaging in sexual activity at early ages and with multiple partners. Approximately 46% of high school students have had sexual intercourse – 6.6% of these before the age of 13, and 14% with four or more sexual partners.1 Sexually active adolescents are at immediate risk for pregnancy and acquiring sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and are also at risk for depression and suicide. Each year nearly 900,000 teenage girls in the US become pregnant – 340,000 are 17 or younger – and 35% of American teenage girls have been pregnant at least once by age 20.2 In the United States the risk of acquiring an STI is higher among teenagers that among adults.3



A critical review of the scientific literature and other sources shows that one largely unexplored factor that may contribute to adolescent sexual activity is their exposure to the mass media.



The average American youth spends one-third of each day with various forms of mass media, mostly without parental oversight.4



The mass media have been shown to affect a broad range of adolescent attitudes and behaviors, including violence, eating disorders, and tobacco and alcohol use.



Few studies have examined the effects of mass media on adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior.



An extensive, systematic review of the relevant biomedical and social science literature shows that only 19 of 2,522 research-related documents (<1%) involving media and youth address the effects of mass media on adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior (Appendix 1).



Television, Cable TV, and Music Videos



Exposure: The average teenager spends 3 to 4 hours per day watching television.4



Content: For every hour of programming watched by adolescents, an average of 6.7 scenes included sexual topics5 and about 10% of scenes show portray couples engaging in sexual intercourse.6-8 One-third of shows with sexual content involve teen characters.5-8



Effects: Several studies suggest an association between media exposure and adolescent sexual behavior, but they are limited because of their study designs, sampling procedures, and small sample sizes. We do not know the relationship over time between exposure to television and sexual initiation in adolescents. The only study in this area is a secondary analysis of data collected for other purposes. As such, it lacks a rigorous measurement methodology to accurately examine the effects, if any.9



Adolescents exposed to TV with sexual content are more likely than other adolescents to:



· Overestimate the frequency of some sexual behaviors10

· Have more permissive attitudes toward premarital sex11

· Think that having sex is beneficial.12


Movies


Exposure: Two-thirds of Hollywood movies made each year are R-rated and most young people have viewed these movies before they reach the required age of 16.13 “In the only study involving exposure and effects of adult oriented movies (note that the study itself refers to “X-rated” movies), 30% of minority adolescent females said they had seen an NC-17 rated movie 3 months prior to the survey.14



Content: Two studies have analyzed the content of the top movie video rentals and R-rated movies frequently viewed by youth.13,15 Both studies reported a high amount of sexual content with the most common sexual activity being intercourse between unmarried partners.



Effects: Adolescents who are exposed to NC-17 rated movies are more likely to:



· Have multiple sexual partners

· Have sex more frequently

· Test positive for chlamydia

· Have more negative attitudes toward using condoms

· Not use contraceptives14



We do not know if the sexual content of R-rated movies has comparable effects.



Radio



Exposure: Adolescents listen to radio nearly 40 hours a week.16



Content: 22% of teen-oriented radio segments contain sexual content; 20% of these were “pretty explicit” or “very explicit.”17



Effects: We do not know the effect of exposure to radio on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.



Music



Exposure: Teenagers spend an average of over 20 hours per week listening to music.4



Content: 42% of the top-selling CDs in 1999 contain sexual content; 41% of these were “pretty explicit” or “very explicit.” 17



Effects: We do not know the impact of sexually explicit lyrics on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.



Magazines



Exposure: 85% of teens have read or looked at a magazine in the last 6 months.18



Content: There are few scientific data on the content of the magazines adolescents read.



Effects: We do not know the impact of sexually explicit magazines or of “mainstream” publications on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.



Advertising



Exposure: The average American child sees an estimated 20,000 advertisements each year. By age 19 the average American adolescent has absorbed nearly 300,000 advertisements.19



Content: American teens currently spend about $153 billion per year, an average of $89 per week per teen.20 Therefore, they comprise a specific target audience for much consumer advertising.



Nontraditional advertising messages that feature embedded and subtle messaging (such as product placement) are more influential, appealing, and effective with teens than more overt approaches.21 However, there is little scientific data about the implicit and explicit content of either overt or embedded advertising.



Effects: We do not know the impact of the sexual content of advertising on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.



Video and Computer Games



Exposure: 70% of households surveyed in 1999 reported having a video game system.4



Content: There are no systematic data concerning the sexual content of computer, video, and Internet games most popular with adolescents.



Effects: We do not know the impact of the sexual content of video and computer games on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.



The Internet



Exposure: On average, children 9–17 years old use the Internet 4 days per week and spend almost 2 hours online at a time.22



61% of teens using computers “surf the net,” and 14% report “seeing something they wouldn’t want their parents to know about.”23



60% of youth report accessing chat rooms and web sites, mainly alone.4



Content: While pornography is widely available on the Internet, there are no systematic data concerning the sexual content of those sites visited by adolescents.



Effects: We do not know the impact of sexual content on the Internet on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.



Gaps in knowledge



Several gaps have been identified:



We do not know the extent of sexual content in radio, advertising, magazines, the Internet, or chat rooms.



We do not know the extent of adolescents’ exposure to such content. There is a notable scarcity of well-conducted, scientifically rigorous studies that examine the impact of sexual content in the media on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.



There are no studies that have examined the cumulative effects of sexual content in different types of media over time on developing youth.



Future Directions


Based on this review of the scientific literature, studies are needed to



Refine methodologies to measure mass media exposure and exposure to sexual content in the media.


Survey adolescents to determine their exposure to forms of mass media for which data are lacking and also survey parents to assess the effectiveness of parental involvement, communication, supervision, and monitoring of media sexual content on these adolescent exposures. Findings from these initial short-term (cross-sectional) studies can be used to guide longer term (longitudinal) studies to assess the impact of exposure on adolescents’ attitudes, values, and sexual risk behaviors.


Evaluate effects of mass media on child and adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors over time (longitudinal studies).


Evaluate child, adolescent, and parent media literacy programs to determine best-practice interventions and their impact on youth viewing choices, interpretation of content, behavioral intentions, and subsequent risk-taking behaviors.


Evaluate the effectiveness of current technological, socio-behavioral, and media practices in to limiting exposure of youth to sexual content in the media


References



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3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, Division of STD Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2000. http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats00/TOC2000.htm .

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